Today’s Art (30th June 2019)

Well, today’s digitally-edited painting is a somewhat rushed gothic horror painting that didn’t really turn out as well as I had hoped.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“The Skull Crypt” By C. A. Brown

Top Ten Articles – June 2019

Well, it’s the end of the month and this means that it’s time for me to collect a list of links to my ten favourite articles about writing fiction, making art etc.. that I’ve posted here this month. As usual, I’ll include a couple of honourable mentions.

All in all, this month’s articles turned out surprisingly well given the hot weather at the time of writing them. Likewise, with my daily art, I finally started making a mixture of realistic landscapes and my more traditional sci-fi/retro art (rather than just landscapes) again πŸ™‚

However, the hot weather affected this month’s reading quite a bit. Although I was able to review 14 books this month, the weather meant that I had to focus more on shorter books, TV show spin-off novels and/or fast-paced novels.

Needless to say, I really enjoyed some of the books I read and my favourite ones from this month are probably: “Martin Misunderstood” by Karin Slaughter, “No Time Like The Past” by Jodi Taylor, “The Eye Of The Beholder” by Marc Behm, “Plague Town” by Dana Fredsti and “The Ectoplasmic Man” by Daniel Stashower.

Anyway, here are the lists πŸ™‚ Enjoy πŸ™‚

Top Ten Articles – June 2019:

– “Three Basic Tips For Writing Gruesome Horror Fiction
– “Three Things Artists Can Learn From Old Survival Horror Videogames
– “Three Reasons Why You Should Abandon A Novel You Don’t Enjoy Reading
– “One Basic Tip For Taking Dramatic Reference Photos In Bright Weather
– “Three Basic Tips For Making ‘Silly’ Stories Compelling
– “Two Basic Tips For When A Genre Won’t Work In Your Chosen Medium
– “Three Reasons Why Reading Regularly Is Important If You’re A Writer
– “Four Wild Tips For Writing Hedonistic Stories
– “Three Tips For Keeping Up Your Reading During Hot Weather
– “Three Things That Novels Can Learn From Computer Games

Honourable Mentions:

– “Three Thoughts About Film Theory And Writing Fiction
– “Finding The Right Writing Style For Your Story – A Ramble

Today’s Art (29th June 2019)

Well, I’ve decided to go back to making more imaginative paintings for the next few days. So, today’s digitally-edited painting is a 1980s-style gothic painting that not only allowed me to experiment with perspective but which also ended up being slightly more detailed than I’d originally expected.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“VHS” By C. A. Brown

Review: “The Eye Of The Beholder” By Marc Behm (Novel)

Although I hadn’t planned to read another Marc Behm novel (after “Afraid To Death” left me less than impressed), I was searching for another book in one of my book piles when I happened to find a copy of Behm’s 1980 novel “The Eye Of The Beholder” that I’d bought sometime during the ’00s. And, since the weather was hot and the book was short, I thought “what the hell” and decided to read it.

So, let’s take a look at “The Eye Of The Beholder”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1999 No Exit Press (UK) paperback edition of “The Eye Of The Beholder” that I read.

The novel begins with a private investigator called “the Eye”, who works for a mysterious detective agency called Watchmen, inc. After shooting an embezzler in self-defence some time ago, he has been relegated to desk duty. But, when a wealthy couple show up at the agency to look into their wayward son’s mysterious new girlfriend, the Eye is given the case.

Aside from a mysterious incident where the Eye falls unconscious in the middle of a park, the case seems fairly ordinary at first. He watches the couple withdraw a large sum of money from the bank and have an impromptu wedding. But, whilst surveilling the couple’s honeymoon, the Eye sees her poison her husband and dispose of the body before stealing the money.

Although the Eye should report her, he finds himself fascinated by her. So, after concealing the body even further, he decides to follow her. In every town she visits, she assumes a new identity, meets a new husband and then kills him. Soon, this obsession with the killer begins to take over the Eye’s life….

One of the first things I will say about this novel is that it is a lot better than Behm’s “Afraid To Death”. It is a quirky hardboiled tale about obsession, observation, death and loneliness. The plot is compellingly suspenseful, the characters are intriguingly bizarre and the story moves at a reasonably decent pace too.

Although this novel is technically a crime/detective novel, the story flips all of this on it’s head – with the “detective” being an obsessed stalker who tries to cover up the killer’s crimes and/or furtively warn her about incoming police attention etc.. Likewise, most of the mystery and detection in this story comes from the Eye trying to learn more about the mysterious killer that he is following. Surprisingly, all of this works really well and helps to add a lot of compelling suspense to the story.

This novel also has a number of interesting motifs and sub-plots too. In addition to a running sub-plot about the Eye trying to solve a crossword clue, there are a lot of visual motifs (eg: regardless of her disguise, the serial killer always eats pears, listens to a song called “La Paloma”, wears the same necklace and smokes French cigarettes) and other recurring things, like a dream the Eye has about visiting his missing daughter’s school. Given that this is a novel about people whose are constantly on the run and whose identities are slowly being eroded by this, these small repeated details really help to add a sense of stability and humanity to the story.

In terms of the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is written in a fairly matter of fact “hard-boiled” style, but is a little bit more informal than classic 1920s-50s noir novels. This informality helps to add intensity, vividness and suspense to the story in addition to emphasising the murky world that the two main characters live in too. Plus, it also helps to keep the story moving at a fairly decent pace too.

As for the characters, the novel’s main characters are really interesting and there is a lot of character development throughout the novel. For example, the Eye is an intriguingly ambiguous protagonist, who goes from being a typical grubby hardboiled P.I, to being a rather creepy stalker/voyeur to being a strange kind of unseen guardian angel. Plus, in some parts of the novel, there is at least a small amount of ambiguity about whether he is real or just a figment of the killer’s imagination.

Likewise, although the serial killer starts out as a typical mysterious “femme fatale” kind of character, we learn a lot about her and her backstory as the novel progresses, and she becomes a much more sympathetic character.

Like in Behm’s “Afraid To Death”, this novel contains numerous high-brow cultural references too. The most prominent of these is probably Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” – which provides moodily ominous quotes about death, evil etc.. during various parts of the story. Likewise, despite the fact that one main character is a stalker and the other is a serial killer with a tragic background, both of them seem to be fairly cultured- which adds an intriguing level of stylised strangeness to the story.

In terms of length and pacing this novel is really good. At an efficient 213 pages in length, it never really feels bloated. Plus, although some earlier scenes where the killer meets several victims feel a little bit repetitive, the novel soon adds enough compelling twists and events to keep the story moving at a fairly decent pace.

In terms of how this thirty-nine year old novel has aged, it has aged better than I’d expected. Although the novel contains some dated descriptions, a few brief moments of homophobia (although it’s nowhere near as bad as “Afraid To Death” in this regard) and the atmosphere/style of the story seems more “1960s/70s” than “1980s” ( although, if it was written a year or two before publication, then this might explain it), the story is still a surprisingly compelling tale that is just as intriguingly weird today as it probably was in the 1980s.

All in all, this was a much better book than I expected! It is a compellingly bizarre tale of two strange characters living a suspenseful life of crime. It has complexity and a bit of depth and it tells a fairly focused story too. If you only read one Marc Behm novel, then read this one instead of “Afraid To Death”.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Three Tips For Keeping Up Your Reading During Hot Weather

Well, I thought that I’d talk about reading today. In particularly, how to keep reading when the weather is hot enough to make reading books seem like far too much effort.

I mean, this might just be me, but I’ve found that – since I got back into reading regularly a few months ago, reading is easier and quicker when the weather is colder.

When the weather gets too hot, it can easily drain your enthusiasm and make the idea of just watching a DVD or playing some computer games feel like a much more relaxing and enjoyable prospect.

So, how can you keep up your reading when the weather is really hot and sweaty? Here are a few tips:

1) Read fun books: This one is fairly obvious but, when the weather gets too hot, it probably isn’t the time to push yourself to read high-brow fiction (although, if you really love this type of fiction, then skip to the second point on this list). In other words, you need to choose books that are just pure escapist fun.

You need to choose stories that move quickly, that make you want to know what happens next and are written in the kind of informal “matter of fact” way that you can read without thinking about too much. Whether they are thriller novels, romance novels, zombie/vampire novels, TV show spin-off novels or movie novelisations, go for books that you feel are just pure fun πŸ™‚

There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, if the weather is hot enough to make reading seem like an effort or a chore, then you need something to remind you of how fun books are supposed to be. Secondly, if you read a fairly informal or fast-paced novel, then you’ll probably read it fairly quickly, which can help to boost your confidence in your reading speed.

2) Read short books: Another thing to do is to go for shorter books. Yes, these days, shorter books are becoming less and less common but they still exist. Not to mention that many older paperback novels (from as recently as the 1980s/90s) often tend to be shorter than modern ones too.

The main advantages of reading short books during hot weather is that there’s less to read (which helps to compensate for less enthusiasm/reading speed), they tend to tell more focused and streamlined stories (which are more likely to hold your interest) and you’ll finish them at about the same rate that you might finish longer books during colder weather (which helps to keep up your confidence about reading).

In addition to this, reading shorter books can also allow you to read more high-brow fiction when the hot weather is sapping your enthusiasm for reading. And, yes, there are plenty of short, but high-brow, novels/novellas out there. Some examples include “The Stranger” by Albert Camus, “Sulphuric Acid” by AmΓ©lie Nothomb, “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess, “Heart Of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad, “The Passion” by Jeanette Winterson, “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley, “The Red Badge Of Courage” by Stephen Crane etc…

3) Plan ahead: One of the things to watch out for during hot weather is finishing a book and then not bothering to pick up another one (because something else seems more relaxing). So, planning ahead is even more important than usual.

In other words, in addition to working out what you are going to read after you’ve finished your current book, try to work out what you are going to read after that book too. Keeping 2-3 books queued up and ready to go means that there’s less risk of losing interest in reading after you’ve finished your current book.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Review: “Martin Misunderstood” By Karin Slaughter (Novella)

Well, thanks to the weather still being incredibly hot, I was in the mood for a short book. A novella, in fact. Of course, print novellas are as difficult to find as cyberpunk movies and other such awesome things are. I could probably go on for ages about how annoyingly uncommon this awesome book format is, but I should probably get on with the review.

Anyway, whilst visiting a charity shop in Portchester last July, I found a copy of Karin Slaughter’s 2008 dark comedy novella “Martin Misunderstood”. Interestingly, looking online, this novella apparently started life as an audiobook, of all things. So, it’s cool that there’s an actual print edition of it too πŸ™‚

So, let’s take a look at “Martin Misunderstood”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2008 Arrow Books (UK) paperback edition of “Martin Misunderstood” that I read.

The story begins in Georgia, with a thirtysomething man called Martin Reed. Martin has a miserable life. Not only is he living with his cantankerous mother but, when he got a job at Southern Toilet Supply, he found that most of his co-workers are the same people who bullied him when he was at school. Not only that, someone has scrawled an insult onto his car and the local mechanic isn’t exactly in a hurry to repaint the car.

Not only that, when he gets ready to go to work one morning, he finds blood on the bumper of his car. Not only that, the blood also gets onto his briefcase and when he tries to clean it off using one of Southern Toilet Supply’s many cleaning products, the fluid begins to dissolve the leather. Furious with his lot in life, he begins to smash up his briefcase when he is interrupted by his secretary, Unique.

However, before Martin can get any work done, the cops show up. Apparently, he is the prime suspect in a recent murder case…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novella is that it is absolutely hilarious. It’s a brilliantly cynical farce that, whilst not for the easily-shocked, is one of the best comedy stories I’ve read since I read Armistead Maupin’s “More Tales Of The City” a while ago. Not to mention that the fact that the story is a novella also means that it is wonderfully concise and focused too πŸ™‚

The novella includes numerous types of comedy like dark comedy, meta-fiction, farce, slapstick, character-based humour, unlikely romance, moral ambiguity, social awkwardness, “shock value” humour, cynicism, sexual humour and humourous narration. Although some of the humour is slightly subtle, the novel includes quite a few laugh out loud moments too. The novel’s humour is also counterpointed by a few more “serious” and depressing scenes that help to make the comedy funnier by contrast too.

Most interestingly of all, this novella also seems to have taken a lot of influence from classic British comedy too πŸ™‚ Everything from the downtrodden protagonist to the socially awkward situations to the graffiti on Martin’s car initially made me feel a bit puzzled about the fact that the novel was set in America.

The story’s detective elements are more of a background detail and they serve as a way to add some extra farce to the story, in addition to introducing one of the main characters (a fortysomething detective called An, who Martin finds himself attracted to). Even so, the mystery is resolved in an utterly hilarious way and the initial uncertainty about whether Martin is actually guilty or not also helps to keep the story compelling too. Likewise, since Martin is a fan of detective novels, the story also contains references to numerous detective and thriller authors too.

In terms of the characters, they’re the source of much of the story’s comedy. All of them get a decent amount of characterisation too, which really helps to add atmosphere and humanity to the story. And, being a comedy novel, some of the characters are fairly stylised too (although one character- Unique – may possibly be slightly stereotypical though).

As for the writing, like many of the best comedy stories, the novel’s third-person narrator is pretty much a character in their own right. This novel is written in a slightly informal (but also formal, if this makes sense) and observational style that also includes the occasional aside from the narrator, which also helps to add even more comedy to the story. The narration flows really well and helps to add a bit of atmosphere to the story too.

In terms of length and pacing, this novella is superb πŸ™‚ At a wonderfully efficient 147 pages in length, it is always great to read a novella πŸ™‚ Likewise, the story’s humour and farce-like plot also ensures that the story keeps moving at a reasonably decent pace too. Whilst you shouldn’t expect an ultra-fast paced thriller, this novel is the kind of compelling story that you’ll probably devour in a couple of hours at most.

All in all, I really enjoyed this novella πŸ™‚ Although it isn’t for the easily shocked and the novel’s cynical sense of humour might not work for everyone, it is certainly one of the funniest novels that I’ve read in recent months. Not to mention that, in a world where books seem to keep getting longer, it is so refreshing to read a lean and efficient story too πŸ™‚

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it might just about get a five.

Four Wild Tips For Writing Hedonistic Stories

Well, I thought that I’d write about hedonistic storytelling today. This is a genre of fiction which covers everything from satirical stories about hedonism to stories that are designed to be gleefully hedonistic fun to read.

I’ll be focusing mostly on the latter of these two things, even though it’s easier to find famous examples of the former (eg: Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas” spring to mind).

This genre is a really interesting one, given that it is pretty much timelessly rebellious. In more joyous times, stories about hedonism often provide cynically satirical social commentary. And, in a miserable age like ours, unashamedly hedonistic stories provide a glorious huzzah of hope and a gleefully subversive reminder that life should be enjoyed.

1) Comedy: This one almost goes without saying, but a hedonistic story should be funny. After all, making your reader laugh is one of the best ways that you can give them a real, tangible feeling of joy whilst they’re reading your story.

It also works well with both types of hedonistic story too. In cynical stories about hedonism, the humour helps to emphasise any satire that you’re including in your story. In actual hedonistic stories, the comedy is what makes these stories such intoxicating fun to read – whilst also giving them such a relaxing, open and laid-back atmosphere too.

But, how do you add comedy to one of these stories? There are almost too many ways to list. You can let the narrator make amusing observations, you can include larger-than-life characters, you can include witty dialogue segments, you can add a bit of farce to the plot, you can include amusingly weird settings/descriptions and you can use all of the comedic techniques you’ve learnt from watching sitcoms (and, if you’ve seen a few, you’ve probably picked up more comedic techniques than you realise).

I could probably go on for a while, but comedy is one of the most essential elements of hedonistic storytelling. Whether you’re poking fun at hedonism or celebrating it, you need to make the reader laugh.

2) The narration: The narration itself is one of the most important parts of a gleefully hedonistic story. The basic rule to follow here is that the narrator should be a character in their own right. Whether your story is narrated from the perspective of one of your characters or whether the narrator is an omniscient third-person perspective storyteller, your narrator needs to have personality.

But, why? Because hedonism is something that is experienced. It is one of the most subjective and human things in existence. As such, your story needs to reflect this by having a real sense of personality and humanity to it. So, whether you’re using first or third person perspective, you need to give your narrator a personality. This will also help to give your story a more relaxed, easy-going kind of atmosphere too (which is one of the most important parts of a good hedonistic story).

Whilst adding personality to first-person narration is fairly easy to do (eg: just imagine what your main character thinks, sees etc..), adding personality to third-person narration might seem a little bit more complicated. It isn’t. The best way to add personality to third-person narration is simply to imagine your third-person narrator as someone telling a story. In other words, someone watching what is going on and providing amusing observations about it to the reader.

Of course, if you’re writing a cynical satire about hedonism, then making the third-person narration coldly devoid of personality or filled with cynical sarcasm is the best way to use the narration to your advantage. But, if you want to make your story fun to read, then the narrator should be a character (even if they are a third-person narrator).

3) Suggestion and implication: As paradoxical as it might sound, knowing when to leave things to the reader’s imagination can actually make your hedonistic story better. This is because the reader’s imagination will always be more powerful than written descriptions. Your reader’s imagination will make gross-out humour grosser, sensual scenes more alluring, eccentric background details even more quirky etc… than you could ever do.

But, how do you do this? The best way is simply to provide just enough details for your reader’s imagination to take hold of, and then leave the rest intriguingly mysterious. In other words, you need to gloss over something particularly shocking, salacious or rebellious whilst also subtly telling the reader “anything you imagine after reading this is your doing, not mine“.

But, don’t go overboard with this! In other words, you need to include at least a small amount of explicit detail, rebellious commentary, well-placed profanity etc.. just to reassure the reader that the narrator isn’t some kind of puritanical prude who is judging both the events of the story and the reader. Seriously, nothing ruins a hedonistic story quicker than that.

4) The plot: There are two schools of thought about this and they both have their merits.

One of these is to focus on the writing and the characters and to either have very little plot or to make the plot a background detail. Not only is this easier to write and more realistic (eg: real life rarely has a plot), but it also forces the reader to focus on the experience of reading the story and, given that hedonism is all about experiences, this can really add some atmosphere to the story.

The other school of thought is to come up with an intricately-detailed plot where, for example, a joke is set up in an earlier part of the story and resolved or referenced later. Where there is a gleefully wild and hilarious chain-reaction of coincidences, consequences and contrivances. The main advantage of this is that it makes the story feel larger-than-life and it really helps to add some extra impact to your story’s comedy too. On the downside, it requires a lot more planning and is more difficult to write.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚